Jennifer Avila y Danielle Mackey | Univision

An environmental conflict marked by violence is raging in Guapinol, Honduras, where local inhabitants resist an iron oxide mine in a national park. 

GUAPINOLDiscreetly and without public announcement, the largest steel producer in the United States, the Nucor Corporation, spent at least four years associated with an iron mine in Honduras under fire for its presumed persecution of social leaders who are protesting the ecological damage the mine may cause in protected land, according to documents obtained through a cross-border journalism collaboration between Contracorriente, the Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP) and the Univision Investigative Unit.

Nucor, a publicly traded company coddled by President Donald Trump, partnered in 2015 with the prominent Honduran businessman Lenir Pérez and his wife Ana Isabel Facussé, owners of Inversiones Los Pinares -- a company that is waging battle against the residents of a town called Guapinol, who oppose the company's planned mine in the Carlos Escaleras National Park, in the northern part of this Central American nation. The conflict has left a wake of people dead, injured and imprisoned.

According to public records in Panama, Nucor executives joined the board of directors of the Panamanian company NE Holdings Subsidiary in March 2015, and later joined a second Panamanian company, NE Holdings, in August 2016. The Pérez-Facussé couple had granted the total shares of three of their Honduran companies to the Panamanian firms in 2015, according to Honduran public records. One of these companies was Inversiones Los Pinares (previously Emco Mining), the holder of the controversial mining concession.

Inversiones Los Pinares has not yet begun to mine the 200-hectare concession in a national forest reserve that it received from the Honduran government. But in 2018, the company began building an access road to the planned mine site, which it will use to transport iron oxide to a pelletizing plant in the nearby city of Tocoa. The plant, which will melt iron with carbon or coke to form compound pellets -- part of the steelmaking process -- is 99.6% owned by Inversiones Ecotek S.A. de C.V., a company created in 2017 in Honduras by Pérez and Facussé. The plant's remaining .4% of shares belong to another mining firm owned by Pérez and engulfed in conflict, Empresa Minera La Victoria, S.A.

According to the Panamanian registry, the partnership between the Honduran and U.S. companies included an agreement by which a subsidiary of Nucor incorporated in Switzerland, Nucor Trading, would purchase the raw materials produced by the mine.

The partnership was created in remarkable secrecy. In response to written questions from this journalistic alliance, Nucor did not explain why it signed a backstage agreement and didn’t register its investment in Honduras. Katherine Miller, Director of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications at Nucor, responded by email: "As is common with joint business ventures sited in foreign locations, the participants chose a location to form the venture that is neutral and equitable to both parties," referring to Panama.